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Week 4: Bengals-Browns matchup analysis

The SportsXchange

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-2)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland - TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Marv Albert, Rich Gannon

*Keys to the game: Cincinnati draws a 3-4 defense for the third consecutive week. Even if the Bengals don't see Jabaal Sheard (knee), offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has used a combination of empty sets and two-tight end formations to provide plentiful outlets for QB Andy Dalton. The Browns have 12 sacks and are second in the NFL against the run, clearly the dominant group for Cleveland, which is trotting out Brian Hoyer for a second start with Brandon Weeden (thumb) out. Hoyer made enough plays to get the Browns their first win in six games dating to 2012, but he was intercepted three times and sacked three times. He'll test CB Leon Hall (hamstring) and should be able to capitalize if Terence Newman draws speedster Josh Gordon. Gordon caught 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown in his first game of the season last week. That gives the Browns a secondary option behind TE Jordan Cameron (20-269-4). What Hoyer doesn't have is the benefit of a running game. RB Willis McGahee had nine yards on eight carries in his debut with Cleveland and executed the wrong play multiple times. Without more punch from the running game, the Bengals are likely to make Hoyer prove he can win the game with his arm.

*Matchup to watch - Browns CB Joe Haden vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green: This has been a fierce rivalry since Green was a rookie in 2011. Haden was suspended for the first meeting in 2012, Green beat him for a touchdown in the second game. Green has three touchdown catches this year, while Haden has yet to allow one against him.

*Player spotlight - Browns LT Joe Thomas: The Bengals created constant pressure on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last week. Thomas, who has played all 6,054 offensive plays in his 99 career games, is the one constant on a line that has given up 14 sacks in three games.

*Fast facts: The Bengals are No. 2 in the NFL in red-zone TD percentage, scoring in six of seven possessions inside the opponents' 20. ... Hoyer seeks to become the first Browns quarterback to start his career 2-0 since 1994 (Mark Rypien).

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Battle of Ohio goes to the Bengals again, as a dominant defense shows its teeth early and often and exposes Cleveland's average collection of skill-position talent.

*Our pick: Bengals 24-12
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